Traveling by train in Italy is an easy and fast way to get around the country… if you know how to do it. Luca and I live part time in Rome and part time on the Tuscan coast in Livorno… but we work in both Rome and Florence. (Check out the map below to see what this looks like.) Each trip takes between 1.5 to nearly 3 hours so we have a lot of time on trains, shuttling back and forth between some of the most beautiful cities in the country: Grand, epic Rome, gorgeous Renaissance Florence and relaxed, seaside Livorno. And if a train car is my third home, I’m not complaining. I love train stations, the blinking orange numbers telling you what platform to reach (except when it’s telling you your train is delayed) and the moment when the wheels start to turn and your rushing through countryside, past towns, glimpsing corners of the country you wouldn’t see if you stayed in the major towns all the time.
On a train you have an excuse to just stop. I don’t have to be anywhere so it becomes the perfect time to catch up on sleep, to read for hours on end, and, my all time favorite train activity, to write. (That is during the winter months. During the high summer tourist season I’m mostly answering emails and coordinating tours.) There’s something about the motion of the car rocking back and forth, the people watching in the carriage, the eavesdropping on conversations in other languages (I mean… if you’re talking loudly enough…!) and the countryside sweeping past to reveal a medieval hilltop village or a sudden glittering vista of the sea…. it all gets my brain buzzing with ideas and, stuck in your seat, you have nothing better to do than write them down. If you’re traveling around the country, the train is one of the easiest and most pleasant ways to do it.
So without further ado, here is your Guide to Train Travel in Italy in which I cover the following:
- which websites are best for buying tickets
- how to validate your ticket if you buy at the station
- how to get to places like Pisa, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi coast by train
- which major train stations to use.
If you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask a question in the comments below! Or share your own tips and tricks for getting around by train.
Names of the Main Train stations in Italy
Most major cities have a few train stations and depending on where you are staying, these other stations might be more convenient (Like Roma Trastevere or Venezia Mestre) but with a few exceptions you’ll want to take trains into the following central stations to avoid extra transport fees to get to your destination. Be alert when you are getting close to your destination and don’t make the mistake I made in my first year in Italy: If you see Firenze don’t jump off the train straightaway! Make sure it’s the Firenze station you want.
Firenze Santa Maria Novella
Venezia Santa Lucia
Websites to book train tickets in Italy
You can book train tickets in Italy with the following two websites:
This is a private train company. Their trains are usually newer and more comfortable than the state trains and for just a few dollars you can upgrade your ticket to have more leg room and comfier seats.
They have wifi but it’s pretty unpredictable so don’t plan to have consistent wifi access between cities. In my experience taking these trains about once or twice a week during the summer, they are usually a little bit late by 10-20 minutes. Every so often there is a major delay with italo.
Italo trains mostly go to main cities so if you need to arrive in smaller towns or cities that are off the beaten tourist track, you’ll want to use the second option:
This is the primary train operator in Italy, run by the state. There are three types of trains you can book but what matters most is checking the travel time and the number of connections. Another mistake I made right off the bat was booking a cheap (and nonrefundable) fare that made what could have been an hour and a half trip to Florence twice as long. If possible, book as few changes as possible to minimize stress!
1. Regional Trains: These trains are slower and usually stop at many intermediate stations. They connect smaller cities so this is what you’ll be on if taking a day trip to Orvieto or Tivoli from Rome. These tickets are always the same price so you don’t need to get them in advance and there is no assigned seating. You can buy these tickets directly at the ticket machines in the station or the tabbachi shops in the station: look for the glowing blue T and the racks of magazines and candy.
3. Intercity: A little slower and cheaper than the Frecce option (next). You can choose your seats though I have to say in the last year every time I tried to reserve two seats together, they always ended up being apart. Mostly people are understanding so we just asked politely and did a little shuffling. Book in advance online to avoid the price increasing.
3. Frecce: The high speed train. Book in advance online to avoid the price increasing. You also have the option to choose your seats for the additional fee of €2.
Planning a day trip by train? You can usually get a discount if you are going to one city and back in the same day. The offers will pop up when you search for ticket times.
Should you get a Eurail Pass?
In my opinion, the answer is usually no. But it all depends on how much train travel you plan to do and how many trains a day you plan to take.
There are a few options for which Eurail pass to get: one allows you to travel in 31 countries in Europe and the other allows you to visit just one country in which you can choose how many days you’d like to use the pass and how many stops you plan to make. Don’t forget to make the mandatory seat reservations for fast trains.
For example the cheapest option at €127 allows you to use the pass an unlimited number of times for just three days within the course of one month. If you plan to do multiple day trips from one city this could be useful but if you are just doing one day trip (Rome to Florence and back for example) it would be cheaper to book the tickets directly on www.trenitalia.com or www.italotreno.it.
This could be a good way to save on train travel but I advise you check www.eurail.com for using the Eurail in Italy and compare to Italo and Trenitalia to see how much you would actually save.
Do the trains run on time? How much time do you need to catch a connecting train?
Before you get going, you probably want to know: do the trains run on time in Italy? The simple answer: often yes… Sometimes no. Barring some accident or mechanical failure on the tracks that could delay everything, you can expect trains to be fairly on time but often a few minutes late. Sometimes there are national train strikes that block everything but these are unpredictable and even if announced may not happen or will only affect certain trains or last for certain hours of the day. Don’t give yourself too little time in between one train and another or you risk missing your connecting train. My rule? I always give myself at LEAST thirty minutes to get from one train to the next. If possible around an hour is better in case the first one is a little late and then you accidentally go to the wrong platform or need to get a snack or whatever the case may be. If you find yourself with extra time, you can always get a coffee in between and practice your Italian with the locals 😉
Buying your ticket at the station
You have three options for buying train tickets at the station:
- Go to the ticket desk and speak directly with a representative. This may involve waiting in line and they are not guaranteed to speak English though you can always figure it out.
- If you are booking a regional train between smaller stations you can buy your ticket directly at the Newspaper stands in the station. Your ticket will look like a receipt and don’t forget to validate this just as you would with a normal ticket. (Details on ticket validation below).
- Book at the ticket machines keeping the following guide lines in mind: Some machines take cash and credit cards, some only take cash, some only take credit cards. Yes, it’s super annoying. Be sure to identify the correct symbol in advance so you don’t wait in line, get through the whole ticket buying process and then realize you can’t pay. I hope this saves you the roughly million hours I myself have lost going to the wrong ticket machine.
Beware of Pickpockets
As a general rule, if someone is trying to give you unsolicited help, avoid them. These people are usually hoping for a tip after pointing at which buttons to press on the ticket machine and at worse they are trying to distract you while someone else relieves you of your wallet.
How to validate your ticket at the station
So you’ve bought your ticket from the machine and you think you’re ready to board the train? Nope. One more step. Look for these little green and white boxes (pic below) and make sure you find one with the green light on. Insert the end of your ticket until you hear it make the little “ka-chuck” sound which means it’s been stamped with the date and time. Check that it did actually stamp a thin line of gray text on the end of your ticket. Your ticket is validated! Now you can board the train!
If you buy your ticket online you don’t need to validate your ticket as you’ve already bought a specific time and place.
Changing your ticket
In some cases this is possible, in others it’s not. It all depends on the type of ticket you’ve selected so when you are buying your ticket online make sure you select the flexible option if you think you’ll have to change your ticket.
Distances between train stations: how to plan your trip
Here are some general travel times to keep in mind when you’re planning how to get from one city to another and what are reasonable travel times.
Rome to Naples: 1 hour & 10 minutes
Rome to Florence: 1 hour &30 minutes
Rome to Milan: 3 hours to 3 hours & 30 minutes
Rome to Venice: 3 hours & 45 minutes
Florence to Venice: 2 hours
Florence to Milan: 1 hour & 50 minutes
Naples to Venice: 5 hours
Naples to Florence: 3 hours
Naples to Milan: 5 hours
Venice to Milan: 2 hours & 30 minutes
How to get to the Cinque Terre by Train
Take a train to the station “La Spezia,” ideally from Florence as from Rome it’s a long time on the train. You can only book this on Trenitalia, the Italo trains don’t go here. From La Spezia you will change trains to the smaller regional train that goes in between each of the five towns of the Cinque Terre.
There is a special ticket you can get that will allow you full day train access so you don’t have to find change at every individual station you stop at. In some cases these tickets also allow you access to the trails in between each town. These can be bought at the station and I’d highly recommend it!
How to get to Pisa by Train
Go from Florence. The train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Pisa Centrale takes about one hour and costs around €10 per person.
While it is technically possible to do a day trip to Pisa from Rome, I don’t recommend it! It will take you about three hours one way and you will most likely pass through the Florence station anyway.
How to get to Pompeii by Train
Take the train into Napoli Centrale station. Then follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana which is like a metro or subway train that will take you to the Pompeii station. This metro can sometimes be dirty, loud and without air conditioning and you should be beware of pickpockets. I’ve taken this train many times and never had a problem and without a doubt it is one of the best people watching spots of all time.
How to get to the Amalfi Coast by Train
There are no trains that go directly to the Amalfi Coast. You can take the train to Napoli Centrale Station. You can then take the Circumvesuviana (described above) to Sorrento from where you can board a bus or a boat to the towns on the Amalfi Coast. If you need to get to Positano or Amalfi and the towns north of it, this is a good option.
Another route would be to take the train to Salerno. There are Trenitalia and Italo trains going to Salerno which will take you to the bottom of the Amalfi coast. From the train station it’s an easy walk to the pier and you can take a boat to towns along the Amalfi coast up to Amalfi. If you need to get to Amalfi or the towns south of it, this is a good option.
Italian Train terms:
Stazione Ferroviaria: Train Station
Biglietto Convalidato: Validated ticket.
In Orario: On time
In ritardo: Late
Da/A: From/To (Da Milano Centrale a Roma Termini: From Milan Central station to Roma Termini station.)